Interview: Engage Awards Brand Innovator winner Emma Woods

PizzaExpress won Marketing Week’s Engage Awards Brand Innovator category in 2012. Marketing director Emma Woods explains what the award meant to her and how to create a culture of innovation within your brand.

pizza express

In a restaurant market saturated with competitors, PizzaExpress knows the value of innovation. The brand won the 2012 Brand Innovator gong at the Marketing Week Engage Awards, in association with Reckitt Benckiser, for its in-restaurant payment mobile app that allows customers to pay bills speedily at their tables without involving waiting staff. So why does recognition for innovation matter so much to the business?

Emma Woods, marketing director of PizzaExpress, explains: “Interesting brands do interesting things and we are proud of- and want to maintain – a reputation as a pioneer….However, with this comes a responsibility. The challenge for the marketing team is ensuring we maintain our energy and commitment on really driving for insights where we can build new ideas, and not assuming we know what our customers want.”

Customer insight was the key driver behind the development of the PizzaExpress mobile app. It allows customer ready to pay their bills to do this instantly and securely for their meals via PayPal in real time. The success of the iPhone version following the Engage Awards win means the service has since been rolled out on the Android mobile platform too.

The entire initiative is aimed at improving the experience of dining at PizzaExpress. The brand’s research showed that waiting for and paying a bill in the conventional manner through restaurant staff takes an average of 10-12 minutes, a period that can feel too long for anybody in a hurry.

Woods adds: “It’s been particularly popular for people who are squeezed for time, like office workers on their lunch hour and adults eating out with young and, inevitably at some point, restless children.”

The app also allows diners to find and book tables, view menus and receive and store special offer codes and receipts. The original launch of the app was accompanied by the rollout of free Wi-Fi to all PizzaExpress customers, via The Cloud, and the introduction of electronic point-of-sale (PoS) systems that allow seamless integration between the app and traditional payment methods.

The target was to achieve 200,000 app downloads in the first four months, and 10,000 bookings made through it in the first month. The first 100,000 apps were downloaded within a week, and the bookings target was beaten by 50%. Woods says that 200,000 people still actively use the app every month. She adds: “This is a real achievement as we know most apps get downloaded and never used or deleted.”

Woods says that PizzaExpress intends to continue its mission to innovate further in 2013. Having also been shortlisted in 2010 for the Brand Innovator award for its Leggara pizza range, all coming in at under 500 calories, it says it will continue to launch new products and services that make sense to its customers. She adds: “The whole PizzaExpress team are pretty obsessive about scanning a much wider brand space to inspire us and set standards.”

Don’t miss your chance to be the Marketing Week Engage Awards Brand Innovator 2013 in association with Reckitt Benckiser! You can still enter here.

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